Thursday, August 18, 2011

That's "Dr. Sweetie" To You

Okay, I don't consider myself old-fashioned in any way, shape, or form. But you guys, what the hell is wrong with showing people a little respect? I mean, it's not hard. We have all sorts of social conventions for doing so. Some of them are not even terribly sexist! (Though many are gendered.) So wtf is up with every woman over the age of 30 calling me "sweetie?"

Unless you're related to me, you don't get to call me sweetie. Sorry. It's a grossly overfamiliar term for, say, a flight attendant to address me by. I wouldn't disrespect you with diminutives. Don't do it to me.

And yeah, blah blah blah, southern culture, I don't give a fuck. There's another term that's widely used in the south: "ma'am." That'll do just fine. It's a perfectly respectful term for a female-presenting person whose name you don't know. There's no need to resort to epithets that should really only be applied to children under the age of 5.

Unfortunately I am undermined in this by a culture that values youth over, like, everything else. And so you have hordes of people who resent being called ma'am because it implies they're old. Point one: no, it doesn't. Point two: wtf is wrong with being old? Please examine your ageism. Then, preferably, get rid of it.

Anyway, I keep resolving to make a fuss the next time a perfect stranger calls me "sweetie," and I keep forgetting to do it, because I am so used to a lifetime of complete lack of respect that it just kind of seamlessly blends in. But next time, you guys. Next time.


  1. THANK YOU! I have been feeling these EXACT same things for years. I used to grit my teeth when men and women alike would address me as "sweetie" or "honey" or something along those lines. It happened a lot when I was working in a coffee shop as an undergrad. (Oddly, I'd often get "sweetie" from women younger than me, too.)

    I like ma'am. I use ma'am. I used to refer to my middle school students as ma'am and sir. When I have friends or know of people who get all offended when they are referred to as ma'am because it makes them feel old, I just roll my eyes. Maybe I'm not bothered because I spent so much of my life struggling for people to see me as my age, not younger. Our society's denigration of old age both frustrates and saddens me.

  2. I AGREE! I use ma'am most of the time, and don't mind being called ma'am myself (though I shamefully admit that I used to mind =P). I have also been called miss, which is totally fine IMO - it implies that I'm younger, but I don't consider it diminutive like 'sweetie.'

  3. I feel you; it also irritates me when people expect me to be pleased at being taken for much younger than I am.

    And another thing; what's with all the first names these days? I don't know my cashier, we're not on a first name basis. If you're going to make them wear their names on their shirts, how about their last names, so at least I can address them respectfully? Or no names at all, and let them have their privacy?

  4. @Sarah, how do you always manage to post 30 seconds before I respond to a comment? It's like a superpower.

  5. In Spain they called me "mi nin~o" :)
    I don't see why we need titles at all. "Sir" rankles no end with me (I don't want deference from people serving me). As you know, such words tend to label people and there's no need to refer to the person you are already clearly talking to.
    Funny thing: ever applied for a job in Britain? The number of titles that you get to choose from is impressive

  6. For the record, I'm also PERFECTLY happy with "hey, you." And service examples were used because that's where I most often encounter "sweetie." It's a two-way street, of course: a ma'am for a ma'am.

    I wonder if your experience of feeling overly respected by "sir" is maybe a male privilege thing. On the rare occasions that I've been called "ma'am" I've instead felt simply grateful that for once someone acknowledged my fellow-adult-hood instead of using snotty-sounding diminutives.

  7. "And yeah, blah blah blah, southern culture, I don't give a fuck."

    This made me LOL. Southern culture is so full of overt politesse that is really meant to be a cover for rudeness that it all twists up on itself and sometimes the only thing that means anything anymore is what ISN'T being said. The "bless her heart" thing, for example. Perhaps I shall write a post about this.

    Oh, one other thing: I like your "hey, you" approach because it isn't gendered. I have some really dyke-y friends who get called "sir" and some femme trans friends who also get called "sir" and I know that sometimes that stings. Why are we making so many assumptions about peoples' genders? That isn't very polite at all.

    Okay ONE more thing: I once threatened to bite someone who called me sweetie while she was yelling at me. She was coaching a riding clinic I was in. I was about 17. She avoided me like the plague after that and we all won.

  8. In case I'm coming across as rabidly pro-"ma'am," lemme just state that I really don't feel that way. I just think that if you feel you need to use a gendered title to refer to someone, it's waaaaaaaaaaaay better than "sweetie." And that one shouldn't object to it on ageist grounds.

  9. Oh, TOTALLY agreed. I know you're not trying to fit us all into little pink and blue boxes. And I really like your point about ageism.

  10. I was thinking it would be pretty nifty to have a non-gendered title to use in place of sir or ma'am. I know politeness can actually be quite messy, dirty, and even downright impolite (like you mentioned, Jess), but this could be a place to invite an incredibly awesome new word!

    On a similar note, why they hell aren't there terms for things like aunt/uncle or niece/nephew and stuff like that which aren't gendered? We have terms like parent, grandparent, sibling, and cousin which don't imply gender. Sorry. That's a bit off-topic, but I've been thinking about that a lot lately.